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Just in time for the holidays: more layoffs

This article was originally published in The Notebook. In August 2020, The Notebook became Chalkbeat Philadelphia.

Grim budget news takes no holiday.

School District officials have confirmed that the District is sending out layoff notices Friday to 141 members of the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers, as part of a planned cut in school-based services due to a huge budget shortfall. These midyear cuts are designed to help squeeze more savings from a budget that in October was up to $39 million out of whack.

And even after these cuts, which affect mostly school-based personnel, a gap of more than $20 million remains.

Included in the group are 47 nurses, 28 secretaries, 20 supportive services assistants, 18 non-teaching assistants, 13 school operations officers, 5 library assistants, and a handful of other support personnel. Five of the layoffs are in the central office.

Coming in the midst of Hanukkah and just days before Christmas just adds insult to injury, said PFT President Jerry Jordan, who vowed that the union would “challenge these layoffs using every legal means available.

“The District cannot cut its way to better student achievement. It’s time to say, ‘Enough,’” Jordan said in a statement.

The layoffs are effective at the end of the year, the result of both centralized decisions and principals’ choices on how to cut between 1 and 3 percent from their budgets. Because layoffs occur according to seniority, 112 employees were also force-transferred. The layoffs of nurses had originally been expected in early December but were delayed because of issues involving the new deployment plan, officials said.

Among those laid off is Michele Perloff, the school nurse at J. Hampton Moore, an elementary school in Somerdale.

“My school has 1,200 children, including 200 who are medically fragile,” said Perloff, the widowed mother of three who is the sole family breadwinner. “This is terribly shortsighted.”

Perloff, a former orthopedic trauma nurse, said she reinvented herself as a school nurse so she could spend more time with her children.

“They need me,” she said, especially since the death of her husband six months ago.

The timing, she said, “is despicable.” But more than that, she said, the students in her school need her, facing issues including obesity and asthma. The remaining school nurses will be spread more thinly around the District, spending less time in each school.

Said Jordan, in his statement: “Surely the SRC has better options than to cut nurses who are the schools’ first-responders protecting children’s health; library assistants who provide literacy support and keep open the remaining school libraries; other school employees who support not only students, but assist teachers, staff and families; and non-teaching assistants, who are crucial to keeping children safe.”

“I was getting ready to begin a master’s in health education to complement my work as public health nurse,” Perloff said. “Now I don’t know what I’m going to do.”

"The School District realizes that it is never a good time to lay off employees, and that is especially true during the holidays," said spokesperson Fernando Gallard in a written statement. "These reductions are very difficult but unavoidable. The District has had many hard choices to make to close its budget gap and, in making across the board reductions, the District has focused on maintaining its academic programs and support for those programs to the greatest extent possible."

Gallard’s statement concluded that "while the timing is unfortunate, delaying these actions will only exacerbate the problem.